Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, April 19, 2018

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Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, April 12, 2018

Batteries in the Field:  When we add smartphones and tablets to the mix of public safety communications devices we are adding yet another set of devices that run on batteries that need to be recharged. While there are a number of companies working on charging these devices from the radio energy that is transmitted from a cell site, which could make recharging a non-issue, that appears, once again, to be well into the future. In the meantime, how are these devices to be charged along with the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) handheld radios?

Comparing LMR to LTE Devices:  LMR devices are generally designed for battery life of over a shift, which is ten hours or so. But this is with a duty cycle that is generally light. The norm is 80-percent standby (lowest power requirement) to 10-percent receive (mid-power requirement) and 10-percent transmit (highest power usage). The batteries for LMR radios are removable and replaceable and can be run through a “fast charge” system to replenish them in short order. There are also what are known as “clam-shell” battery cases that are designed to be used with disposable batteries, usually a number of AA cells. During major wildland fires when the forest services issue their cache of radios, they are mostly powered by throw-away cells. The batteries used in LMR radios are usually on the bottom of the radio, are easy to take off, and have a lot more battery capacity than batteries that are not removable.

There are a number of different scenarios for LMR radio distribution. In police departments, most LMR handhelds are staged in gang chargers and as patrol officers exit the station for a shift they will grab a radio and sometimes a spare battery for use on their shift and then replace the units in the charger at the end of their shift. In the fire service, since there are normally four assigned to an engine, radios are sometimes in chargers near one of the engine’s rear doors and are picked up as needed when arriving on a scene. Most EMS personnel have radios issued to them at the start of each shift. Of course, there are many variations of this including some departments where the LMR handheld is the only radio each person carries. Read the Entire Post Here Continue reading

Snapshot: CAUSE V Digital Operations Team Responds to Tacoma Train Derailment

How well can you tell facts from fiction on social media? How about in a crisis?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) concluded the fifth Canada-U.S. Enhanced Resiliency Experiment (CAUSE V) event last year, in partnership with Defense Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS), running drills with local response communities involving the hypothetical eruption of Mt. Baker, an active volcano in the Pacific Northwest said to be long overdue for an eruption. As part of the simulation, a group of digital disaster services volunteers from Whatcom County, Washington and the Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada practiced separating fact from fiction on the web, with the mission of keeping responders informed during the event.

“We had positive results experimenting with social media in CAUSE IV, so the volcanic eruption scenario was a good fit for the added twist of identifying false or misleading information,” said Denis Gusty, the Program Manager for CAUSE series at S&T FRG, “The local stakeholders were on board with the idea, so we ran with it.”

Alisha King, an emergency manager with the State of Washington, coordinated and taught hands-on training sessions for the volunteers in social media analysis, including open-source intelligence gathering and identification of misinformation, which were sponsored by the S&T First Responders Group. Together she and Eli King, an emergency manager at the University of Washington and fellow Team Lead, identified the long-term benefits of a more formalized virtual operations group. Whatcom County volunteers then joined forces with professional emergency managers and public information officers to form the Cascadia Virtual Operation Support Team (VOST).

“You can easily turn to recent events—Hurricane Harvey, for example—to see how the public turned to social media for help,” said Gusty, reinforcing the need for a VOST, “More and more people today are turning to social media for news.”

Though many of the Cascadia VOST had limited social media experience prior to this S&T-supported training, they became quickly adept at distinguishing relevant pieces of information amid a squall of tweets, news releases and other items that needed vetting before they could be considered actionable. Their skills were put to the test in this fifth S&T CAUSE/DRDC CSS experiment, but if experience is the best teacher, the VOST members became experts soon after.

On December 19, when an Amtrak train derailed and spilled onto a highway in DuPont, Washington, the Washington Department of Transportation reached out to Cascadia VOST and WaTech (the centralized technology agency for the State of Washington) for assistance. Less than a month after training, the Cascadia VOST activated in real time, for a real-world emergency.

Although not a volcanic eruption, the need for this group of vetted and trained digital operations team was immediately clear in response to the derailment.

“It’s wonderful to see the work of DHS S&T live on after CAUSE V and provide valuable and tangible benefits to local communities,” said Alisha King, pointing to how the Cascadia VOST has continued to train together in subsequent local exercises. During November’s Apple Cup, a rivalry football game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Washington State University Cougars, VOST members provided key intelligence that was used to brief law enforcement at the event.

The initial motivation behind forming Cascadia VOST was a widespread phenomenon called “Truth Decay” which is defined as a blurring of lines between opinion and fact, due to cognitive bias interacting with the rise of social media and other fundamental changes in information systems. “Truth decay is by far one of the most concerning contributing factors to the normalization of extreme misinformation,” says King.

This was evident at the outset of the Amtrak derailment, as news outlets began reporting a death toll twice the actual one; they had reported that six people had died, when in reality there were only three deaths, and more than 100 injured.

In addition to the inaccurate figures, the VOST was concerned about other leaks: law enforcement works to protect names of victims and minors involved in situations like these, so the team had to be wary of false identifications or faulty reports involving responders and passengers. Having developed methods and skills for deciphering online rumors, the VOST members were quick to flag unreliable content, helping Pierce County, Washington Department of Transportation and Amtrak mitigate any unlawful or prematurely distributed information.

But how did they spot potential misinformation within flood of online content?

Fortunately, VOST members received specialized S&T-sponsored training, which taught them to use algorithmic vetting of suspicious claims or posts.  For example, the longevity of an account is weighed against the volume of content posted, the topics historically favorited and rebroadcast are assessed, and reverse-image search is used to determine message validity. Accounts with a hyperbolic bend, a history of spewing conspiracy theories or using highly politicized rhetoric are scrutinized.

“Content coming out from these accounts can be very appealing to actual humans who sympathize with it,” said Alisha King, “Radicalized content is very appealing to people with radical views. Unfortunately, the more prevalent these extreme messages become, the more likely they are to be rebroadcast by someone who thinks they are real.”

Getting the facts of a train accident is difficult on its own, but add the jangle of thousands across the internet with varied and unverified claims, and this task demands a razor-thin fact-filter: “Reverberation of untruthful noise can start to drown out truthful signal, which starts to normalize extreme views to moderate observers,” Alisha King added.

This team was able to research, communicate and record their findings through a variety of Google-based tools and spreadsheets, Slack (a cloud-based collaboration app), and fact-checking websites like Snopes, which allowed local responders to enter the situation with greater awareness than before, and assisted public information officers in addressing rumors and misinformation quickly before they could gain traction.  Content was crowdsourced, then either validated or flagged as false, which especially served the different state, city and county response teams, all in a hurry to update the public with accurate and relevant information as soon as possible. VOST reports were also provided to brief Amtrak’s executive staff on public perception, timeline, and rumors regarding the incident.

Cascadia VOST served as a universal fact-curator for organizations involved, working tirelessly to ensure optimal, informed decision-making on the part of responders. Though still a relatively new group, their vital role in both the train derailment and S&T’s CAUSE V experiment may have established the Cascadia VOST as a disaster response fixture in the region. Both Pierce County, where the derailment occurred, the Washington Department of Transportation and Amtrak have commended Cascadia VOST for its efforts and expressed enthusiasm about continued collaboration.

National coverage of the VOST response and its effectiveness has allowed efforts toward resilience to spread organically across the region. Their participation in CAUSE has inspired the formation of a bi-state VOST between Oregon and Washington. Currently, members of the Cascadia VOST, many from Whatcom County, are on-deck to activate for the 2018 Special Olympics, planned protest events, and numerous drills and exercises across the state.

S&T’s CAUSE has been a series of efforts to improve resilience in areas along the U.S.-Canada border where the impact of a disaster would be shared by the two countries, but where the response is limited by a lack of cross-border wireless signals and the jurisdictions of separate government response teams. S&T has collaborated with emergency and disaster managers from areas of the United States and Canada to facilitate preparedness in these communities which, instead of driving far out of their way to seek help, are better served if they can easily contact responders just across the border.

When asked about the future importance of SMEM groups like Cascadia VOST, Denis Gusty said, “I think as long as the public continues to use the technology, emergency management needs to implement its capabilities into their response plans. Social media and the use of digital volunteers will continue to play an important role in emergency response.”

The link between CAUSE and VOST is just one example of how different response communities can influence each other through collaboration. Bringing communities together with the mission of resilience can be contagious, and as CAUSE demonstrates, it transcends borders.

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Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, April 5, 2018

For the past two weeks I have been sidelined with a nasty infection I appear to have brought home as a souvenir from IWCE in Orlando. Many important things happened during this time so this week I will recap some of them and attempt to catch up. Some of the news has to do with the fact that FirstNet completed its Evolved Packet Core (EPC) for use by only the first responder community, Verizon says its core is up and running and the FirstNet core is “vaporware,” the FirstNet Authority tasked FirstNet to build out public safety band 14, AT&T has stated that the FirstNet network build-out will happen a lot quicker than five years, and much more.

FirstNet Core:  Let’s start with the FirstNet core. The core of an LTE network is the brains of the network. AT&T has been offering up all of its LTE spectrum with full priority and pre-emption for public safety and now the redundant brain of the network is also up and running. This means several important things. First, the public safety network is really end-to-end and available for public safety only, and the core is hardened and separate from AT&T’s customer core, ensuring Public safety traffic will remain separate and apart on the overall AT&T LTE network and band 14 (the FirstNet spectrum). The core is the final step in the end-to-end encrypted LTE network. Because public safety devices have their own SIM identification number, they are instantly identified as members of a network riding on a network. Public safety users, while on the same LTE spectrum AT&T is using for its commercial users, are segmented so public safety users have priority, better data encryption, and access to the public safety core. Even when AT&T’s secondary (commercial) users are sharing bandwidth they have no access to the FirstNet core or any way to intermingle with FirstNet users.
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Open Letter from Verizon on Its New Public Safety Private Network Core

NPSTC Leadership: Today, Verizon announced the availability of its dedicated Public Safety Private Network Core.  This dedicated public safety core is the centerpiece of expanded products and services designed to enhance Verizon’s 4G LTE network for public safety’s use.  A copy of today’s news release is attached.

I also wanted to take the time to address some issues that have been raised in previous NPSTC meetings regarding Verizon’s plans and its communications to public safety agencies and organizations.  Some have criticized Verizon for its decision not to bid on the FirstNet RFP, its decision to provide a public safety network solution in competition with AT&T and/or the way it has communicated certain aspects of its plan.  I fully understand why some may react in this way, and I want to address those issues directly.

First, on a personal note, I want to say how much I respect NPSTC, the various organizations that lead its efforts, and all those individuals that have dedicated their careers to protecting and serving the public.  I have a special admiration and respect for those individuals that formed the Public Safety Alliance and led public safety’s efforts on Capitol Hill to establish FirstNet and get the spectrum and funding necessary to support a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).  Most of these individuals continue to work in various capacities to help ensure that FirstNet succeeds.  I was proud to be able to lead Verizon’s efforts in supporting public safety as it worked to create FirstNet, and it was a pleasure to work with and support such dedicated individuals.

I was also hopeful that Verizon would ultimately be directly involved in helping FirstNet build the NPSBN.  While that did not happen, I don’t think that anyone familiar with Verizon’s position was surprised at the outcome.  Verizon has a long history of serving first responders, and our commitment to continue to serve them has not waivered.  We understand that first responders demand and expect a higher level of service for their communications, and our networks, our services, and our operational support are designed to meet those expectations.  However, the business case for FirstNet’s RFP really hinged on the ability to commercialize the B14 spectrum while also serving public safety.  Verizon has never been interested in commercializing the B14 spectrum, and we simply couldn’t make the business model work to support FirstNet’s preferred approach.

Verizon’s decision not to bid on the RFP, however, in no way diminishes our commitment to public safety, as evidenced by today’s announcement.  Verizon intends to continue to make investments in our network and provide the products, services, and support that our public safety customers want.  While the availability of public safety networks other than FirstNet’s may not be what some expected, I believe it will ultimately make public safety stronger.  Competition has always been the key driver in advancing innovation and ensuring that customer needs and expectations are satisfied.  The fact that the nation’s two largest communications companies are making substantial investments in public safety is a true testament to the accomplishments of FirstNet.  While Verizon may not be FirstNet’s network partner, we remain committed to the FirstNet vision that public safety created more than a decade ago; a vision of effective, reliable, and interoperable communications whenever and wherever first responders need it.  Verizon’s executive team and the thousands of Verizon personnel that support our first responder customers everyday stand ready to assist public safety in achieving this important goal.

Should you have any questions about today’s announcement, or any other aspect of Verizon’s commitment and service to public safety, please do not hesitate to reach out.


Don Brittingham, Vice President, Public Safety Policy, Verizon



Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, March 15, 2018

Public Safety Advocate: T-Band, IWCE, FirstNet

T-Band Call to Action: The T-Band (470-512 MHz) is spectrum used by both the public safety community and business users in 11 metro areas of the United States. When the bill creating FirstNet was passed in 2012, Congress required public safety to “give back” some spectrum in exchange for the 10 MHz of spectrum then known as the D-block adjacent to the 700-MHz spectrum that had been reallocated from wideband (50-KHz) channels. This was to enable public safety to deploy its own nationwide public safety broadband network. Congress decided the T-band would be a perfect giveback since it would be auctioned, once returned, for millions of dollars. Since the bill was passed, the major cities and surrounding areas that make use of this spectrum have been unable to find either the spectrum or the funding to relocate, in a timely fashion, their many radio networks that call this spectrum home. See the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) T-Band report…

IWCE 2018: For the first time in a very long time, IWCE was not held in Las Vegas, but Orlando, which is also a great convention city. However, when you weigh in spring break visitors and flights in and out of the area it can be tricky to plan what you want, and even the TSA pre-check lanes were experiencing long delays processing travelers. Even so, the conference itself was top notch. Perhaps it was because this was the first full IWCE after FirstNet the Authority awarded the contract to AT&T. The mood was upbeat, the sessions I attended and those I was part of all had good crowds, and this year it seems many more people were asking questions after the panels and/or offering up their advice. I always enjoy it when those in the audience ask questions so we can learn about their concerns…

FirstNet:  FirstNet was an even more integral part of IWCE this year. There were keynotes, sessions, and more directly related to FirstNet. It was announced at IWCE that FirstNet, the Authority, had given a task order to FirstNet built with AT&T to start the band 14 (FirstNet) spectrum build-out. Task orders for various aspects of the network build-out, operation, training, and more are released by FirstNet the Authority based on milestones reached by FirstNet. So far, FirstNet is running well ahead of what anyone would have guessed because AT&T included not only band 14 but all of its own LTE and upcoming 5G spectrum and deployments… Read the Entire Post Here

MissionCritical Mar  9 10:13

AT&T signed a new task order with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) for building out 700 MHz band 14 in all 56 states and territories. AT&T executives said the carrier has already begun buildout in most states, but the new task order formalizes the next step in AT&T’s year-old agreement with FirstNet to build a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). read more

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McGinnis, Sambar Tout AT&T Plans

ORLANDO – Kevin McGinnis, who represents the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) on the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) board, and Chris Sambar, senior vice president-FirstNet for AT&T, Inc., today defended the plan for building and running the nationwide public safety broadband network overseen by the First Responder Network Authority.

During a NPSTC meeting held in conjunction with the IWCE show here, Mr. McGinnis, who is also a member of the FirstNet board but stressed that he was not speaking for the FirstNet board or the NASEMSO board, defended the plan to deploy one nationwide network.

“What we won is what public safety asked for initially, which is one network,” he said. “We need to dedicate ourselves to moving that forward. … I think we’re doing well.” He did not mention by name Verizon Communications, Inc., which is offering a competing public safety offering, by name.

At NPSTC’s January meeting, Mr. McGinnis criticized Verizon, suggesting that the carrier’s public safety broadband offering service pales in comparison to the FirstNet plan being offered by AT&T and complaining about statements attributed to Verizon (TR Daily, Jan. 9).

Mr. Sambar, who also did not mention Verizon by name, said that in the past couple of days, “one of those other commercial carriers” has continued “to take shots at the FirstNet network.”

“They’re all calling it a monopoly now,” he added. “This is not AT&T’s network. … It’s public safety’s network.” He added, “We’re building what you’re asking us to build.”

He noted that FirstNet must certify everything deployed by AT&T.

He added that in areas with no coverage or weak coverage, AT&T will build thousands of new cell sites, some later this year but most next year. AT&T this week also said it plans to touch more than one-third of its existing cell sites this year to add Band 14, which it plans to deploy to 95% of the U.S. population over the next five years.

Mr. Sambar also emphasized that AT&T’s public safety core is “a dedicated, physically separate network for public safety,” adding that a “virtually separated” core, a reference to Verizon’s core, is different than “physically separate” one. Verizon has defended its core, which, like AT&T’s, is scheduled for completion by the end of this month.

Mr. Sambar also said that it’s taking more time than some public safety agencies would like to sign them up for service as AT&T checks their credentials and priority level.

Mr. Sambar was asked about the timing of deploying z-axis indoor location accuracy. He said he has met with five or six vendors but said “there’s major challenges with just about all of” the technologies, including their ability to be effective when the power in a building goes out.

He said AT&T likes the NextNav LLC solution, although it needs to be tested in a building that is on fire because it uses pressure in devices, and pressure changes in buildings on fire.

Also during today’s NPSTC meeting, Paul Patrick, the interim chair of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), said PSAC’s early builder working group would be disbanded when its current task expires at the end of this month.

Also, David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, noted that the FCC plans to consider at its March 22 meeting a sixth further notice of proposed rulemaking in its 4.9 gigahertz band proceeding (TR Daily, March 1). He noted that a number of the proposals in the item came from NPSTC. He said that “perhaps towards the end of the year” the FCC will be “at the point where we can adopt final rules.”

Mr. Furth also noted that the FCC last month released a 700 megahertz band second report and order (TR Daily, Feb. 12), and he said that by NPSTC’s next meeting, there will hopefully be progress with the 800 MHz band interstitial channel item as well as further rebanding progress in the Mexico border region. NPSTC’s next meeting is scheduled for May 15 via teleconference. —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily